Packer begins this final chapter with an assumption, stated clearly in the title: that God is adequate. He bases his arguments from the book of Romans. He starts out by asking a question, “What do you look for in the Bible?” Is it doctrine or life or the meaning of the Church or is it God’s personal word to you? Whatever you are looking for you, he says, you will find it in Romans. Packer asserts (I want to use a slight variation on a famous aphorism of the first century) that all roads lead to Romans and further in Romans all views of our faith can be most clearly seen. While I think that is a little too pat, Romans does illustrate Packer’s overriding assumption, that God is adequate, sufficient in every way. However, before we go any further, if you are new to this study you can find all of the previous lessons using the Knowing God category link. There are also study materials for the book available at william.meisheid.com though the ones for this chapter may appear a few days after this series of postings.
Packer wants us to consider that Paul’s letter to the Romans might be the high peak of the Bible. If you accept that then the next logical step would be to ask is there any place within Romans that is the high point of the book? He considers the high point of Romans to be chapter 8. No one can deny that this section of Romans is the epitome of spiritual comfort and the foundational assertion of God’s adequacy. It is the place where those in trial and tribulation return again and again to be comforted by its sweet assurances.
However, before we work through this chapter and deal with Gods adequacy, we need to admit that there is a movement within the Church to recast this unalterable foundation with another view. It falls under the collective name of the Emergent or Emerging Church. There are some noble desires that spurred the beginning of this movement.
The emerging church originated in reaction to many perceived problems of the late 20th century Church: declining attendance of Protestant churches, particularly amongst Generation X, concern over how the Church would adapt to postmodernity, and increasing suspicion of the missiology of the market-driven mega-church and institutionalized Christianity. Wikipedia (emphasis added)
The concern is mixed within the mostly laudable goals. When you ask how the Church will adapt to something, rather than how it will address or deal with or approach something you immediately place yourself on dangerous ground. Adapting implies change and while changing ones clothes (the outward presentation) is sometimes good (think of Hudson Taylor learning immaculate Chinese and then dressing and grooming himself as Chinese to present the Gospel directly to his audience without the initial problem of appearing to be a Westerner lording over the locals).
While I am far from an expert on both postmodernism and the Emergent/Emerging Church, I have been extensively researching the issue and have some informed opinions. From my perspective the problem is that change and adaptation, especially to the postmodern mindset, holds inumerable avenues of possible compromise, especially related to the accuracy, reliability, and overarching authority of the Scriptures, as well as the same issues related to all historic theology, doctrine, and dogma. This is because in the postmodern context narrative becomes the driving focus of Scripture, where the story of the faith, especially a self-interpreted version of that story, completely overshadows the faith (doctrines, creedal assertions, settled theology, and so forth) of the faith. Postmodernism is also a move away from the systematic theology ushered in wholesale by the Reformation, to narrative-based faith and not just in personal interaction or personal evangelism, but as the root of the Christian faith.
One problem with postmodernism is that it is still emerging, considering itself an ongoing critique of modernism which it believes it is/has superseded beginning that rise in the 1960’s (I find the concurrent rise of the counter culture, free thought, free love, and drug induced discovery of “who I am” not inconsequential or incidental). However, within this ongoing critique postmodernity is characterized as an incredulity toward metanarratives”, which in this case would include the Bible which is a fundamental metanarrative on the nature of God, man, and our ongoing relationship together. Metanarratives by definition overarch all human understanding (a metanarrative is a grand overarching account, an all-encompassing story, which gives structure and order to history), while in the postmodern world local and subcultural narratives (ideologies, myths and stories) are given precedence and are expected to override and define the former metanarratives. It is a reversal of the historic biblical understanding of itself where it sits in judgment of everything else. In postmodernism, everything else sits in judgment of the metanarrative (read here Bible) and is allowed, even required to critique, reinterpret, recast, even strip and change the original in any way deemed fit by the local or subcultural group. So in postmodernism the homosexual subcultures redefining of the historic Christian metanarrative is valid and expected, because their understanding is true for them.
It doesn’t take long to see that going even a few steps down this road means no absolutes, no inalienable rights, no overarching anything. Everything is subjective, local, up for grabs by whoever wants to claim a narrative insight. Enter the Emerging/Emergent Church, whose initial mission was to find ways to evangelize the emerging postmodern world, the first fruits of which were seen as the Gen X generation. The following has been quoted as the foundation of the emerging church’s self-identity.
our faith is ancient. our faith is future. we’re old-fashioned. we’re new-fangled. we’re orthodox. we’re innovators. we’re postmodern Christians. (Note: usually attributed to Leonard Sweet, this reference is no longer available through normal online channels, and currently cannot be connected with Sweet, even by a denial. The emergingchurch.org is closed down, so in essence much of what used to be used for critique is gone, but for the industrious is still available on the WaybackMachine—Internet Archive.)
The lack of caps is more than stylistic, it is philosophical, since in postmodernism everything is equal/on the same level/equally valid and caps show “artificial” distinctions. This site goes on to explain:
because the church is organic (the living body of Christ), it needs evolution or re-formation to stay healthy and vibrant.
the traditions of the church are treasure… we are not starting from scratch… we can build upon the learnings of the first reformation as we surf the wild wave into the second.
today’s mission context provides the church with a chance to:
1. shake off any residual “leave it to beaver” orientation and begin swimming (even with a paddleboard) within the postmodern culture.
2. really trust the power of the gospel and learn to communicate it with authenticity, because for postmodern people, authenticity is primary.
the church should not fear Postmodernity, as it provides us with a new context, and thus a fresh opportunity to get real, to drink deep from our own wells, and go back to our own future… (emphasis added)
The fundamental problem with postmodern authenticity is that it is individually decided. The postmodern mind is in essence its own god, defining what is authentic. That means it is based on its own experiences of life, where one, to use the now almost trite example from Campus Crusade, sits on the throne of one’s life and authenticates what meets the narrative demands of one’s own experience.
Where does this lead those who in the Church have begun to “swim” in the postmodern culture? A simple example can be taken from the journey of Charles Pinnock, a person on whom I relied heavily in the 70’s and early 80’s to address the prosperity distortion. He is a proponent of Open Theism. One example of the change that Open Theism brings to historic Christian understanding of our relationship with God and directly impacts on this chapter’s premise is in God’s omniscience and control of the future.
Decisions not yet made do not exist anywhere to be known even by God. They are potential–yet to be realized but not yet actual. God can predict a great deal of what we will choose to do, but not all of it, because some of it remains hidden in the mystery of human freedom … The God of the Bible displays an openness to the future (i.e. ignorance of the future) that the traditional view of omniscience simply cannot accommodate.” Pinnock, Augustine to Arminius, p. 25-26 (emphasis added)
This “open” God is in many ways limited and as such there will occur situations were God will be surprised, unable to protect us from “the mystery of human freedom” and while he can assist us afterward, he will not be able to prevent evil from sometimes overtaking us. He is not entirely adequate and we may suffer and be beyond his ability to intercede in our behalf. He may be the first responder, but often that is the best he can do.
That is only the beginning of the postmodern, emergent, Open Theism trap. Like a labyrinth of subtle invitations, it assaults us at every turn, challenges us at every truth. So, in the coming weeks we will look at chapter 22 and the adequacy of God as over an against this new postmodern siren call. This is no shallow exercise but goes to the heart of knowing God. Is he suddenly less than we thought? Are these new assertions correct? Where does this leave “the faith once delivered unto the saints?”
May God grant you grace and peace as we wade into these deep and troubling waters. May you take solace in Paul’s admonition that we “can do all things in him who gives us strength.” See you next week.